Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Private-schools group sues state over curriculum review 

An association of private schools has sued the state Education Department to block its effort to scrutinize what New York's nonpublic schools are teaching, an enforcement move that Kiryas Joel and other Hasidic communities strongly oppose.

The lawsuit, filed last week in state Supreme Court in Albany, argues the state had no legal authority to order public school districts to review the curriculums of the private schools operating within their borders to ensure they are providing a "substantially equivalent" education in core academic subjects like social studies and math, as required by state law.

The plantiffs' attorneys blast the initiative in court papers as both illegal and poorly planned, describing it as "an unconstitutional effort to control the curriculum of independent schools through reviews conducted by unauthorized local school boards that provided no clear standards of what constitutes 'substantially equivalent' education."

The case was brought by the New York State Association of Independent Schools and 11 of the 192 schools it represents.

Four schools in Orange and Ulster counties belong to that association: Storm King School in Cornwall-on-Hudson; High Meadow School in Stone Ridge; Tuxedo Park School; and Woodstock Day School.

Not involved in the litigation are the yeshiva systems for Kiryas Joel and other Orthodox communities, whose residents and leaders have protested the state's enforcement push as a threat to their schools' intense focus on religious instruction.

More than 55,000 people had signed an online petition in opposition within a month after the state announced its the curriculum oversight in November.

"We trust our Rabbis, our principals, and our leaders to create the school schedule and curriculum that works best for our children," read the petition, directed to Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

The plaintiffs in the new lawsuit have asked the court for a temporary restraining order to stop the Education Department from continuing its training sessions for administrators or doing anything else related to the curriculum reviews while the lawsuit is pending.

The case, brought by the Manhattan law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman, claims the state-ordered reviews will affect about 800 nonpublic schools with 250,000 total students.

The attorneys argue that public school systems lack the funding, training and experience to carry out those reviews, and are likely to make "inconsistent, arbitrary and inequitable determinations."

An Education Department spokeswoman declined to respond to the plaintiffs' claims on Monday, saying the department doesn't comment on pending litigation.


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